She's Not Making This Up: A Chat with MTV's "Scream" SPFX Makeup Artist Ashley Levy
Emily Koopman: For those who aren’t familiar, can you explain the difference between a Makeup Artist and an SPFX Makeup Artist?
Ashley Levy: They are pretty similar in style, it’s just the content that is different. I think the best way to paint the picture would be to pretend to break down a script as a Makeup Artist and as a SPFX artist.
Reading the script, you would jot down notes like “most popular girl in school”, “always looks naturally beautiful, but never wears makeup”, “everyone always tells her how beautiful her eyes are” and you would design a makeup look based around these context clues. For instance, you would make sure and give her a glamourous no makeup/makeup look, and you would probably make a note to really play up her eyes with falsies or shadows in order to draw attention. As the makeup artist, you then go through the script and jot down notes such as “sc.14- elena just woke up, sc. 19-Steve is sweaty from working out, Sc.42-Elena and Steve both have dirt smudges on their faces from Gardening”. It would be your responsibility to implement and maintain those looks throughout the movie, keeping in mind scenes are usually shot out of order.
It’s a little less intimate, but equally as important. Essentially, you would break down the script in a similar fashion, this time looking for clues that involve injuries or character changes. For instance, “sc. 16- elena falls and skins her knee”. This would require researching exactly how a freshly skinned knee would look, implementing it, and then working with the Director and the Director of Photography to figure out how they want to shoot the reveal of the skinned knee. Afterwards, you will need to keep track of how many days pass throughout the rest of the movie and show the wound in various stages of healing. Similar idea with knife slices. In season one of Scream, Brooke gets her arm slashed. We had to initially show the fresh wound, as well as a freshly stitched up version. For Season Two, since only a couple of months had passed, we had to make sure Brooke had a visible scar on her arm as there would have been no way that her arm would have completely healed in time. A lot of times (especially for Scream) you will need to find a technical advisor who can assist in the realities of these scenarios.
Emily: What is your favourite sort of makeup to do?
Ashley: Honestly, I love to create stories. Whether it’s creating a glamorous female lead with to-die-for period makeup, or sawing someone’s head in half, it’s all about eliciting an emotion. I want the viewer to feel something when they see my makeup. I want to be able to either transport them to a different place and time, create excitement over the exhaustive beauty, or even allow the viewer to remain in the story because the effects feel legit and real.
The best way to describe it for me is through a Project Runway analogy: You know when a top look turns the corner on the runway during a challenge and you gasp out loud? THAT'S what I want, whether its beauty OR SPFX.
Emily: If we opened your makeup bag, what would we always find? (Work and personal.)
Ashley: First and foremost is ALWAYS skincare. The cameras these days are so crisp, we can’t rely just on makeup for a flawless face. You just have to take good care of the skin! In both my personal and professional kit, I always carry AMARTE skincare. It’s so light it never interferes with makeup application. Carlson [Young] turned me onto it on Scream and I’ve never looked back since. The Aqua Lotion is my favorite moisturizer.
Also, I never work without my mini Beauty Blenders. They are seriously the best for really naturally blending undereye makeup and not leaving brush strokes or fingerprints.
For my personal collection, I keep two types of foundations. One is more sheer and dewy, for every day activities, and one has a more flawless, matte appearance, for night time or work mode.
Urban Decay Naked is my go to for the day to day and Chanel Les Beiges is my bourgeois catch.
And my favorite nude liner, nude lip combo is forever Urban Decay lip liner in Stark Naked and Too Faced La Creme Lipstick in Naked Dolly.
Emily: What originally drew you to the industry and how did you get started working in TV and film? What was your first job?
Ashley: I originally started out as a fine artist- I went to USC for my BFA in Technical Design and Art History. My mediums were watercolors and sculpture. It was truly this art background that lead me into the world of beauty and FX, because I was literally doing on faces what I would naturally do on canvas and clay. My infatuation with Glamour and the Macabre also ensured that I would be sticking around for a while. Breaking into the industry was literally a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Sticking around was what required endless hours of practicing, studying, researching, working for free, sweeping up shops for free info, etc. It’s not about opening the door, it’s about making sure that damn thing stays open.
Emily: What does a typical day on set look like for you? (eg: on MTV's Scream)
Ashley: Typically my Key, Ignacia Soto-Aguilar and I arrive to the trailer about 1-2 hours before the rest of the crew comes in. We keep a Keurig in the trailer so that is the first thing that happens once we step foot inside. We then look at which people are coming that day, what kind of makeup they need to be wearing, and if the makeup changes throughout the day due to different scenes. If there are any SPFX playing that day, we also begin to prep those pieces and communicate with the necessary people involved any notes revolving around it. When our actors first come in, we gab a little about our day as we get to work. Some days are quiet, others are filled with laughter. After everyone is done in makeup, we pack everything up and go to set, or where they are filming the scene. We set up around the monitors and watch what is being filmed, stepping in only if some touch ups are needed. Being Scream, it’s almost guaranteed that you will be covered in some sort of fake blood by the end of each day. At wrap, the actors come back into the trailer to have their makeup taken off and to swap stories/gossip about the day. We clean up the trailer for the next day, do any necessary prep and leave!
Emily: Do you have any fun stories of makeup mishaps, etc?
Ashley: One of my favorites was doing Connor [Weil]'s split head makeup on the first season of Scream. That morning the director decided he wanted his arm to be chopped off as well, so we went for it. We were about three hours into the makeup, exhausted, and stuck in a rut trying to figure out how to make this stump work. Out of no where, Connor chimes in, “WE GOT THIS BOO! WE CAN DO IT!!!! LET’S STUMP THIS ARM UP!” and that little cheerleading session, as well as his collaboration in making the stump work, was all we needed to get it done.
There’s also nothing as unforgettable as high fiving the entire trailer and cheering when we NAILED a cat eye with liquid eyeliner. It was just SO PERFECT.
Emily: What do you like most about makeup?
Ashley: The ability to tell stories. To create a sort of visual storytelling that takes you out of your element. For beauty, it’s watching how empowered a woman gets when she knows she looks good. There’s nothing more rewarding than finishing a look, and inspiring yourself to take it to that next level. It’s almost like having a little magic in your back pocket.
Emily: If the situation presented itself, would you ever want to start your own line of cosmetics? If so, what would you call it and what would your brand pitch be?
Ashley: I think every makeup artist secretly dreams of having their own brand, if only to supplement the market with what they think is missing. I’m obsessed with lipstick and eyeliners, because I feel they punctuate the face, they way an exclamation mark, period, or ellipses does. I almost feel like my line would be something that you would want in order to finish off your face. Everyone’s skin is different, so to try to come up with foundations and concealers that appeal to everyone would be exhausting. My pitch would be something along the lines of: It’s up to you to put together your sentence (your foundation, concealer, powder, etc.) in a way that serves you best. Let us help you punctuate your story with the proper accoutrement (eyeliners, lipsticks, mascaras) so you can set your TONE. As far as the name, my trademark is always trying to make something look more expensive and “bourgeois” than it really is. So I’d probably go with something like Boujjis, or even veer the route of my mother’s elegant, very french middle name “Elise”.
Emily: Do you have any favourite people to work on/with?
Ashley: Jessica Biel was easy to work with because her face is really that beautiful. Like, aggressively beautiful. And she’s so kind and professional, you almost forget the dynamics in the trailer. And Danny Trejo was exciting in the aspect that he always had amazing stories to tell, prompted by certain songs. So you’d almost challenge yourself to put together a playlist of iconic song guesses in hopes that it would elicit an amazing story from him.
Emily: What would you say are the requirements to be a makeup artist in the entertainment industry?
Ashley: Clearly, you need to have a certain level of skills to be desired in the industry. But, there are a LOT of very talented people out there. Always keep learning, and try to push yourself as creatively and innovatively as you can. The right people notice the hard workers, and it will pay off.
But possibly the most important advice to really carve a nice niche for yourself? Try not to be an asshole and don’t be a douche. And always remind yourself to keep dreaming.